With 13 years of experience in land-planning issues, Ken DeLaTorre believes that he has the proper expertise to serve on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
DeLaTorre joins Selena Smith and Jeff Hmara in the race for the council’s Seat 4, which has been vacant since the resignation of longtime Councilman David Swift last summer. The election will be held Tuesday, March 13.
DeLaTorre moved to South Florida in 1998 from Providence, R.I., after receiving a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Rhode Island. “I came to South Florida where all the growth was going on,” he explained.
He spent the next decade doing work for a number of major development firms, such as Centex Homes and WCI Communities. DeLaTorre opened his own business in July 2008, Design & Entitlement Consultants. “We offer land use, zoning and consultation services,” he said.
DeLaTorre and his family moved to Royal Palm Beach in November 2010. “What attracted us to Royal Palm Beach was the fact that it was very family-orientated, and it was much safer than where I was living before in West Palm Beach,” he said. “We were very impressed with the level of service out here and the reasonable tax rate… We were looking for a safer place to raise our kids, and Royal Palm Beach was on the short list. We moved to Madison Green in 2010, and we have no intentions whatsoever of leaving Royal Palm Beach.”
Among his top accomplishments, he lists starting a small business under difficult conditions. “I was laid off from a previous job [with Centex] at probably the worst possible time,” he said. “My first daughter was 3 months old; my wife was not working.”
The biggest challenge of having his own business is that there are not many people buying land or doing anything with their property right now. “Many of my clients have been banks since they’ve taken ownership of properties people have essentially walked away from,” DeLaTorre explained.
His wife now teaches second grade, which has lent some continuity to the family revenue stream, he said.
It is his 13 years of experience in land use, planning and growth management issues that he feels makes him the most qualified candidate to serve on the council.
“These issues are the type of items that these elected officials vote on every day,” he said. “I’ve had experience working all over the State of Florida. I’ve been exposed to a vast number of municipalities and seen how their processes work. With that experience, I could essentially bring in the best of them to Royal Palm Beach.”
As a proponent of economic development and jobs, DeLaTorre said that is what the village needs right now. “As a land planner, sustainability is a huge item of focus for me, as sustainability means everyone lives, works and plays in Royal Palm Beach. We need to attract some of these job engines and bring them into town,” he said.
DeLaTorre wants to work closely with Royal Palm Beach High School to see that the new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) academy created by Principal Jesus Armas is successful.
“This is a huge opportunity, what Principal Armas is doing at the high school,” he said. “I talked to him about it and said one of the things that you could potentially do on some of these vacant parcels is bring in a job engine or robotics company that can work in conjunction with the high school to enable that program.”
Another goal would be to prioritize the fact that all government employees are public servants. “I have seen the best and the worst,” he said. “I’ve seen some elected officials who are excellent and actually do what they are put there for, which is to listen to the public, and I’ve worked with other levels of government, whether it’s an inspector or building official, where they kind of lose sight of that.”
DeLaTorre said he would not favor raising the tax rate under any circumstances. Instead, he would look more closely at the budget for inefficiencies. When Royal Palm Beach Commons Park is finished, he would look at ways to generate more revenue from it to offset the debt service and maintenance costs. “We also need to bring in some of these job engines to generate tax revenue,” he said.
He looks to the completion of the State Road 7 and Jog Road extensions to help ease traffic congestion. “I know politics has basically stopped both of them, but from my perspective as a land planner and a concurrency perspective, they make sense,” he said.
DeLaTorre said the recently enacted foreclosure registry ordinance was a step in the right direction, but not the solution. “I know it’s a difficult task to get to the correct entity to register, between the lender and the actual property owner, but I think that what they can do in conjunction with some of the HOAs will hopefully take a step to maintain some of these properties,” he said.
Village Manager Ray Liggins is doing a good job in light of the challenges he has faced, DeLaTorre said. “Revenue is not coming in and will probably continue to decrease,” he said. “The village has done a very good job of keeping a relatively balanced budget without the revenue.”
To promote a more business-friendly environment, he would try methods such as enterprise zones to attract new businesses and keep those already here. “I would continue to make it business-friendly so they are not lured out of town,” he said.
DeLaTorre said the 150-acre former wastewater treatment plant site represents a huge opportunity. “I think we need to step back and take our time with it and not rush into anything,” he said.
He thinks the property should remain in its current land use designation of public ownership for now. “You have to listen to the residents,” he said. “You don’t want to put something in there that’s totally obtrusive. I don’t think it’s the right spot for commercial. I would rather have something that’s open from eight in the morning to six at night.”
Since DeLaTorre has lived in the village only a year, some have questioned whether he has enough local experience for a council seat. However, DeLaTorre sets himself apart from the other candidates due to his land-planning experience. “A land planner looks at things differently and very meticulously,” he said. “I think my experience could be a tremendous asset on the council.”
Asked whether he is sure he has enough time to serve on the council and take care of his family, he said being self-employed also allows him to make his own schedule. “I already work nearly seven days a week, so nothing is really going to change for me,” he said.
If elected, DeLaTorre agreed that he would have to be careful that he has no conflicts of interest with the council and his clients. “If any semblance of a conflict occurs, I would have no problem recusing myself,” he said.
He said people should vote for him because he wants to maintain the community as family-oriented and safe. “My family is the number-one thing in my life, and I want to make sure that my kids are safe growing up in this community,” DeLaTorre concluded.